Fine Gael TD for Galway West, Sean Kyne, has welcomed comments by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar TD, saying that he will consider the possibility of a grant scheme for capital expenditure on equipment for mountain rescue teams to assist in the vital services they provide on a daily basis to people who find themselves in difficult situations on mountainous terrains.
“The 12 mountain rescue teams in this country, mainly staffed by volunteers, provide a crucial service to people who find themselves in difficult situations on mountainous terrain. The Department of Transport funds current expenditure to the tune of €186,000. However, the cost of running our mountain rescue teams continues to escalate as the growth in adventure related tourism is putting pressure on existing resources.
“I asked Minister Varadkar by way of an Oral Parliamentary Question, to consider the possibility of providing our mountain rescue teams with an additional capital grant to assist them with the upgrade of their equipment and training for their volunteers. Minister Varadkar has agreed to consider providing a modest capital grant and has requested his Department to engage with Mountain Rescue Ireland to determine how much funding is required and how this would be used.
“Any funding that can be made available will go a long way towards supporting the 365 men and women who work hard to provide this voluntary emergency service to people lost or injured while walking or climbing in Ireland’s mountain ranges.”
Mountain Recue Funding
Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will consider providing a capital grant scheme for mountain rescue organisations to enable the organisations, most of which are staffed by volunteers, to update or modernise equipment in view of the very welcome growth in adventure and activity related tourism which unfortunately at times requires the services of such mountain rescue organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54333/13]
Deputy Seán Kyne: I am asking the Minister to consider the introduction of a modest capital grant scheme for Mountain Rescue Ireland and various other subsidiary bodies, for equipment and the replacement of jeeps and vans. Such vehicles are used to transport hard-working volunteers to their mountain bases to carry out their important rescue work.
Minister Leo Varadkar: In total there are 12 mountain rescue teams in Ireland. These teams, staffed by volunteers, are called upon to operate in all weather conditions and provide a hugely important service.
As we approach the end of 2013, I want to thank them and all our volunteer rescue teams for the amazing work they do. My Department, through the Irish Coast Guard, administers an annual grant scheme to Mountain Rescue Ireland, the umbrella organisation for mountain rescue teams on the island of Ireland. However, it is important to recognise that the Garda Síochána have responsibility for the co-ordination of mountain rescue teams under the framework for major emergency management. The Garda fall under the remit of the Department for Justice and Equality.
In administering this grant, my Department meets Mountain Rescue Ireland and relevant statutory bodies each year to review grant requests in accordance with a framework agreed some years ago. The grants paid to individual teams reflect the level of operations and expenditure of the teams. It is a matter for individual teams to decide how it is spent, as each team at local level develops its own administrative and operational practices.
In the year to date, some €186,000 has been paid in grant assistance to Mountain Rescue Ireland and its constituent teams. I am pleased to say that it has been possible to retain the grant at this level over the past few years. I will do so again in 2014. Mountain Rescue Ireland, as an all-island organisation, also avails of additional supports in Northern Ireland. I am open to considering the introduction of a capital grant scheme, as proposed by the Deputy, and will ask my officials to engage with Mountain Rescue Ireland on the issues involved.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for his reply and concur with his remarks about the amazing work undertaken by volunteer mountain rescue teams. I recognise the current expenditure provided by the Department of Transport, which includes €7,400 to the Galway mountain rescue teams. I also acknowledge the Department’s promotion of the hiking and walking sector which is growing. Volunteer rescue teams play an important role in this regard. Current expenditure is hugely important but so is capital expenditure. I welcome the Minister’s statement that he is open to the introduction of a modest capital scheme and that he will ask his officials to engage with Mountain Rescue Ireland. Other Departments, such as the Department of Health, have access to such funding. For example, the Galway Centre for Independent Living received €50,000 for a replacement mini-bus. I wonder if the Minister can get his hands on similar funding for mountain rescue schemes.
Minister Leo Varadkar: As far as I understand it, that applies to some of the existing grant schemes. In 2007, there was a funding scheme to support national organisations in the community and voluntary sector. There are one or two other schemes which have an arrangement with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I do not quite know the details of that, but there are some other things they can already apply for. However, what I have in mind, and what the Deputy is suggesting, is to allow for a certain number of minor capital grants from my Department, probably for equipment more than anything else. That money can be spent quite quickly. I will ask my officials to engage with such groups to see if we can do that for 2014.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for his supplementary reply. While I will not say they are joined up, his Department, along with the Department of Justice and Equality, and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, are working to provide possible sources of funding. Perhaps there should be a more centralised funding system for voluntary groups so they can avail of €50,000 or €60,000 to replace vehicles. Minister Leo Varadkar: I will certainly take the Deputy’s comments on board.